Fiji, PNG writers shortlisted for short story prize

Mary Rokonadravu
Mary Rokonadravu

Fijian and Papua New Guinean writers have been shortlisted for the prestigious 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

Mary Rokodravu, who won the 2015 Pacific prize, has been shortlisted for her work ‘The Nightwatch’.

And Baka Barakove Bina from Goroka, Papua New Guinea, has been shortlisted for his work in Tok Pisin, ‘Wonem Samting Kamap Long Mama?’ (‘What Happened to Ma?’), which he translated into English, and is the tale of a young boy and his sisters searching for their mother.

60-year old Bina works at the Waigani National Court in Port Moresby as a Registry Officer. His first short story was published by Oxford University Press and he has self-published a number of works on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.

Mary Rokonadravu has had short stories published by Granta, and adda, and included in anthologies by the University of London Press, and Penguin Random House New Zealand (Vintage).

Her story, ‘The Nightwatch’, is about “the plight of ordinary people within the machinations of capitalism and Christian fundamentalism and how these influence indigenous peoples and their responses to national and global events, as well as a story about unlikely sources of compassion. It features the coming together of a group of unrelated individuals through a series of events involving mining, marginal employment, sex work, and the baking of bread against the backdrop of a coup and the rise of a Christian prophetess”.

Globally, 26 stories have been shortlisted by an international judging panel. It is the first time a Papua New Guinea writer has made the list. Aside from winning the regional prize in 2015, Rokonadravu was also shortlisted in 2017.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 54 Member States. Entries can be submitted in Bengali, Chinese, Creole, French, Greek, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil, and Turkish. In 2022, 408 entries were in languages other than English.

Chair of the Judges, Guyanese writer Fred D’Aguiar hailed a list of “memorable and urgent stories that captured the concerns of their respective communities’ and noted that ‘these writers achieved all this while they displayed an astute sense of the many forms of the story and its many long traditions on a continuum, from oral to scribal, from performance to contemplation [….] the result is a shortlist of stories that is aware of history, while never sacrificing story. These stories are as diverse as the world that they are drawn from and care about: they reflect a complex and afflicted planet; they answer the call of today’s multiple societal tensions by acts of reading that transform how the reader views that world.”

Baka Bina

The 2022 Pacific shortlist:

‘Slake’ by Sarah Walker (Australia) 

‘The No Sex Thing’ by Eleanor Kirk (Australia)

‘The Nightwatch’ by Mary Rokonadravu (Fiji)

‘Speaking in tongues’ by Shelley Burne-Field (New Zealand)

‘Wonem Samting Kamap Long Mama?’ (‘What Happened to Ma?’) by Baka Bina, translated from Tok Pisin to English by the author (Papua New Guinea)

The 2022 shortlisted stories will be published online, in the innovative online magazine of the Commonwealth Foundation, adda (addastories.org), which features new writing from around the globe. The judges will go on to choose a winner for each of the five regions. These regional winners will be announced on Monday 23 May, before being published online by the literary magazine Granta. The overall winner will be announced in June.

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